Archive for category: Vocation

Celebrating Your Competition

Vocational success is not a zero-sum gain. Another’s accolades, accomplishments, and approval do not take away from yours. As I wrote yesterday, there’s enough work, enough success to go around. And if that’s the case, shouldn’t we celebrate each other?

The zero-sum game vocational mentality is present in every occupational field, and the writing world is no exception. I’d like to write well-regarded novels, great magazine articles, and sought after works of non-fiction. So often, though, these ego-driven career hopes fill us with a sort of envy for those who’ve achieved those very things. This is the envy that might short-circuit the celebration of our neighbors, the good work they’ve done.

Today, I’d like to step away from my own work. I’d like to share the works of a few writers (my chosen occupational field) who are using words well. I’d like to celebrate my vocational neighbors.

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Steve Wiens released his new book, Whole last week. His book offers a beautiful message, that we’ve been written into the story of God no less than any of the biblical characters. It’s a book of healing. It’s well done. I wish everyone I knew would read it.

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Shawn Smucker wrote a YA novel a few years back, a work that my sons adored. (Ian still claims it’s one of his favorite books.) His book, The Day The Angels Fell, has been picked up by Revell and releases this month. If you have young adults in your house, buy this book. If you don’t? Buy it anyway. I promise it’ll take you back to your childhood in all the best ways.

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Abby Perry wrote a fantastic piece for Fathom Magazine about parenting as narration. The tension is palpable:

My fingers are wrapped tightly around the steering wheel. The intersection is crowded and confused by construction; it is hot; it is lunchtime; a nearly-five-year-old is asking me about death from the backseat while his two-year-old brother looks at books.

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Ashley Abrasion wrote this article for the Washington Post, which was picked up by the Toronto Star. In “How my Mother’s Opioid Addiction Affects my Experience as a Parent,” Ashley writes:

My mother was the Newport 100 cigarettes she smoked and the empty cans of Pepsi she left lying around the house. She was her weekly trips to the emergency room — for what, exactly, I was too young to know — and her dramatic emotional outbursts, often aimed at me. She was forgotten parent-teacher conferences, her body’s constant weakness, the way she seemed to have it all together when my friends came over, only to lose her mind when we were alone. In my eyes, my mother was defined by her brokenness and her addiction. Those things always eclipsed her best intentions.

Each of these works comes from another writer or author in my field, folks some may say are my competition. And yet, their words are worth celebrating. Their successes are worth sharing. Sharing this success does not take away from my own.

How will you celebrate your vocational neighbor today? Can you think of a way to congratulate, promote, or praise a colleague (even a competitor) for the work they’re doing? Remember, the praise you give does not take away from the work you’re doing. In fact, it’s this sort of graciousness that might release you from your own envy, and by this, perhaps bring a little light to your daily occupation.

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Vocational Freedom (Release the Zero-Sum Game)

For twelve years, I worked as a litigator at the largest firm in the state of Arkansas. Litigation so often felt like a zero-sum game, a winner-take-all proposition. My win was my opponent’s loss, and the winners were rewarded. The good litigators never lost, they said, and the awful litigators never last. This is the way the law works. She’s not a jealous mistress; she’s a black widow.

The zero-sum game is an unspoken facet of the lawyer’s ethos. If the cases came to my door, they didn’t come to yours; if they came to yours, they didn’t come to mine. And in that environment, it was easy to loathe (cordially, civilly, privately) your colleague’s success. Their accolades, their clients, their cases were just that–theirs.

Speaking to the baby-lawyer version of myself, I might say these things: It’s not as winner-take-all as you might think, Seth; celebrate your colleagues’ success; there’s plenty to go around.

I’m in a different vocational space, now. Now, I write for a living. I pitch projects against other people pitching projects. Sometimes, I pitch significant works against friends. And yes, in the pitch-against-pitch showdown, one will win and the other will lose. Is this any different than the law? Isn’t my new vocation mired in the same zero-sum games?

In the last six months, I’ve lost a couple of pitches, both times to friends. Both of the winners du jour are fine writers and even better humans, and even in the disappointment of losing a fantastic job, I’ve found myself happy for them. They have their own businesses to run, their own mouths to feed, their own college savings accounts to fund. And because I want the best for them, because I want to incarnate the notion of love-thy-neighbor (and and thy neighbor’s kids), it’s hard to see this as a zero-sum game.

My friend, my neighbor has won, and shouldn’t I celebrate his success?

And celebration of the neighbor aside, each pitch I lost taught me a little more about the next pitch. As I wrote in my series on failure, the loss taught me something about myself, my process, or my skill set. The lessons from loss always make us stronger, always refine us.

The zero-sum-game ethos is an absolute killer. It will haunt you, will cut all the right veins, will drain you and fill you back up with jealously, anger, bitterness, and resentment. Love of your neighbor, celebration of your neighbor–these are the antidotes to the poison.

Ask yourself where you might be playing zero-sum games in your own life. Ask where the all-or-nothing, winner-take-all mindset has taken root, where it’s given birth to jealousy or resentment against your neighbor. Ask where it’s made you covet your neighbor’s clients, career, or opportunities. Practice rooting these games out by loving your neighbor as you would want to be loved, by celebrating them as you would want to be celebrated. This is a key to vocational freedom.

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Look for Rest Somewhere Else, Working Man.

Who knew yesterday’s piece, “Do What You Love, And You’ll Work Every Day Of Your Life,” would resonate with so many of you? I certainly didn’t. I’m thankful for the number of messages and emails I’ve received, and if there’s one common theme to those messages, it’s this:

I once thought another job would give me the joy and validation I needed; I thought it wouldn’t feel like work. Guess what? I was wrong.

Thanks for you honesty, all.

Today, allow me to restate yesterday’s working premise another way: There isn’t a single vocation that can give the human soul what it needs–equilibrium, peace, and rest. 

Sure, there are vocational choices that might make it easier to find soul-rest. (For instance, I’d argue soul-rest is difficult to find in the vocation of cocaine trafficking. Cocaine traffickers, feel free to email your disagreement.) But if vocation or occupation was meant to provide perfect rest and utter joy for the soul, soul-satisfaction would be in short supply. Could the roughneck, the coal miner, the migrant worker find rest and soul-satisfaction in their vocation alone? What about the lawyer grinding out the hours, the police officer under fire, the middle manager at Super-Mega-Mall-Mart? Could any of them find peace and rest solely in their respective careers? Could you.

Modern men have perpetuated a dangerous myth, the myth that the perfect, soul-fulfilling, non-work work is just around the corner. It’s a myth that tips too many of us off center, keeps us striving, striving, striving for the next shiny position. Believing the myth, how many of us have hummed our working-man-blues tunes?Here’s what the myth peddlers have failed to take into account: work is just that–work. It will never completely satisfy the soul.

Are you looking for that perfect job, that vocational track that feels less like work and more like rest, like soul-satisfaction? Good luck. Maybe you’ll be the vocational unicorn frolicking in a field of cotton candy under May showers of Skittles. I doubt it. More likely, you’ll be like the rest of us; you’ll do the next thing you know, the best way you can. Sometimes you’ll love it. Sometimes you’ll hate it. Most of the time, though, you’ll struggle under the stress of your chosen occupation.

That’s what it means to be a working man.

It’s okay to be a working man.

Look for your soul rest somewhere else, working man.

 

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7 Leadership Principles Guaranteed to Ruin Your Career but Save Your Soul

This week, I shared the story of a friend–a decent, hard-working, upstanding friend of faith–who’s asking the hard questions of vocation.

Why is integrating vocation and faith so difficult? 

How do you ‘maximize profit’ while staying true to the message of scripture? 

How can I give everything to The Company and feel good about the scraps of time I throw to my children, my wife? 

What about time for prayer, for spiritual connection and formation?

The Market, though, refuses to answer these questions (even the “Christian Market,” whatever that is (feel free to read between the lines)). Instead, it pulls a sleight of hand, shirks those questions in favor of others.

How can you be a better leader? 

How can you take your team to the next level?

How can you succeed, succeed, succeed and by that success, prove yourself as a worth [leader, worker, Christian, whatever].

“The sign of success,” they tell my friend, and you, and me, “is leading others with excellence.” They syncretize the message of The Market and The Message of faith until we feel guilty about our inability to leverage everything we have for the economic well-being of… what? The Kingdom?

Leadership principles are all the rage in the Christian faith and have been for several years. But is every follower in Jesus’ way called to be a leader? Is the sign of a successful follower success in the Market?

Let me be clear: your success as a follower of Christ has nothing to do with your ability to lead in the workplace. Your success as a follower of Jesus’s way has nothing to do with market performance, in fact. Instead, the leadership of a Christian is marked by being a good follower. And so, today, let’s look at the 7 Christian Leadership Principles Guaranteed to Ruin Your Career (But Save Your Soul).

1. Don’t Center Yourself. I’m sure Jesus had a good chuckle about the leaders of his day, the ones who imagined themselves as so critical to the plan of God. He shot the hard-chargers straight. “The last will be first and the first will be last,” he said to the people who imagined themselves central characters in society’s pageant.

2. Become A Child. Jesus didn’t take much stock of adults doing important adult things. Instead, he took stock of the children, of those with simple faith who wanted nothing more than to be near him for the sake of being near him. Maximize profit? Maximize leadership potential? Children don’t care about those things. Children want nothing more than a good story, perhaps a laugh or two.

3. Serve The Least. Serving the rich, those with means, the participants in The Market is all fine and good, but success in that service meant very little to Jesus. “When have you visited the prisoner?” he asked. “When have you given the thirsty a cold cup of water or done the unseen thing for the down and out?”

4. Sell Everything. Didn’t Jesus say this to the rich young man? Go ahead. Explain it away; I know I’ll try to.

5. Save Somewhere Else. “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven,” he said, “not in your 401k.”

6. Kill Your Self-Interests For The Sake of Others. Take the fall, the consequences, the death for another. Sure, you’ll lose the whole world, but isn’t it worth it to gain your soul?

7. Believe the Irrational. Jesus told Thomas, “blessed are those who have not seen me and still believe.” And what does it mean to believe but to put his words into action, to live them out in our families, our vocations, our social lives?

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I thought I’d written my last piece on vocation a week ago. Alas, sometimes fortune, fate, or the Spirit comes calling. Feel free to invite others along as we continue this exploration.  I know I’m not alone in my questions on this topic, and I’d love to hear how you and your people are processing your own questions.

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The Only Leadership Principle You Need

Thought leader.

Business leader.

Leadership principles.

Leader, leader, leader.

Leaders—we’re eaten up with them, maybe even obsessed.

This morning I sat in the local coffee shop and spoke with a fella I know to be good-and-decent. He’s smart, competent, a hard worker. He’s a man of faith, too, and as we talked about life, church, and business, he shared his workday struggle.

Why was integrating vocation and faith so difficult?

How could you chase a buck and stay true to the message of scripture (a message to which he gave intellectual assent)?

How could you sell twelve hours to The Company and feel good about the scraps of time you reserved for the girls, the wife?

What about time for prayer, for spiritual connection when you’re always chasing the rent, the mortgage, the next client payment, the next development opportunity, your own tail, whatever?

These were honest questions, questions that The Company, The Men’s Group, The Christian Business Gurus shirked. “These are the wrong questions,” they said (and say ad nauseum). “Instead, ask yourself this: What are you doing to be a more effective workplace leader?”

They were answering questions that were unasked (as tends to be their way).

Be more of a leader. Lead by example. Set the goals. Set the course. Stay the course. Ask others to follow you on the course. Achieve, achieve, achieve.

“Aside from it being unhelpful in answering any of my questions,” my friend said. “What does any of it mean? I’ve pondered my friend’s quandary, and here’s what I think. Leadership principles are easier to teach than principles of integrating faith, career, and family. But becoming a better leader in the workplace cannot help him (or you or me or any of us) solve our disintegrated compartmentalization. Perhaps increasing your leadership capacity can help you feel important, maybe even indispensable. It’s a good ego drug, one that helps numb the conscious when burning the midnight oil. Being a leader can help you earn an extra buck, can pad the retirement account or help you buy the extra toy for your daughter, your wife, yourself. Leadership (as defined by the current business milieu (even the current Christian business milieu)) is good for some things, but it cannot teach you the way of Christ, unless, of course, leadership is redefined as this:

Asking others to follow you on a mad mission of certain death for the sake of others.

This, I think, is the Key Leadership Principle, the model embodied by Christ himself. This, I think, is the only leadership principle the person of faith needs.

Don’t get me wrong, we need good leaders. Some are born leaders; others are made. But as painful as this may be to read, know this: not everyone can be a leader. (Those peddling these models are selling snake oil; trust me.) Here’s where the life is: everyone can die for the sake of another.

This week, I’d like to kill the leadership model of vocation. It’s overdone, outmoded. In its place, I’d like to build a model that keeps us connected to the larger purpose. What is that purpose?

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

If this was our filter, would it help us better integrate our faith into all aspects of our lives, vocation and family included?

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I thought I’d written my last piece on vocation a week ago. Alas, sometimes fortune, fate, or the Spirit comes calling. Feel free to invite others along as we continue this exploration.  I know I’m not alone in my questions on this topic, and I’d love to hear how you and your people are processing your own questions.

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The content here takes hours (and no small amount of spare change) to produce. If you enjoy reading my content, whether here, in the bi-monthly Tiny Letter, or in any of my free email campaigns, would you consider SUPPORTING THE WORK? (It’ll only set you back a cup of coffee a month.) And, if you enjoy this website and haven’t yet signed up for the bi-monthly Tiny Letter newsletter, sign up to receive it straight to your inbox.

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